The early reports on Derrick Williams are coming in, and they are good.
Williams drew unanimous praise after the first two Wolves practices in Mankato on Monday and Tuesday.
“He’s a guy who can attack the basket,” Adelman said. “And he needs to do that.”
Well, he did that throughout the week. And Bayno, Adelman, and Brandon Roy liked what they saw.
The coaching staff, who worked with Williams in his rookie year, came away touting Williams’ improved conditioning and professionalism. Roy, a newcomer to the Wolves, simply saw a dynamic player. On Williams, Roy said:
He’s extremely talented. He makes explosive plays that nobody can guard. I’m trying to tell him to now do it every time.
The biggest thing now is to get his motor going. He’s a good guy by nature, so he’s kind of laid back. He just needs to get that mentality that he wants to dominate. He should want to be a dominant player.
It’s nice to see Williams getting praise from Roy, the team’s natural leader. But the big question is, can Williams get clock over Wolves incumbents and new acquisitions who are vying for minutes at his natural position–power forward–and the position he’s trying to learn, small forward?
At the power foward, Kevin Love showed up to camp out of shape.
But Love will doubtless be the Wolves’ best player again this year, even if the portly frame he sported in camp this year should put a halt to the criticism he levied against Williams toward the end of last season (“I just hope he can last through a week of what I do.”)–at which point Love was coming off an All-Star season following an off-season in which he had significantly improved his body.
Williams will likely vie with Dante Cunningham, and Chase Budinger, to a lesser degree, for reserve minutes in the Wolves frontcourt. Given the kind of camp he’s had, he should beat out Cunningham. Budinger is a more uncertain proposition. Williams isn’t a natural SF and Budinger is, and Adelman clearly brought in Budinger because he trusts him–a bond he still needs to cultivate with Williams. In addition, Williams should see some time in small ball lineups with either Love or Kirilenko flanked alongside him on the front line.
Before wrapping up this post on DERRICK WILLIAMS OPTIMISM–we’re all about the feel-good preseason posts here at Punch-Drunk Wolves– I’ll make a James Harden comparison.
Like Williams, Harden was drafted very high (3rd Overall) by a team that already had a ton of firepower in its backcourt: Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant are top-flight players who need the ball a lot, and who occupy the perimeter in half-court sets. The situation has some similarities to the one Williams entered, with Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic playing excellent ball at the power forward and center positions, making Williams a de facto 6th Man.
Here’s the rookie year comparison of Harden-Williams. James shows up better in aggregate measures, to be sure. But you’ll see that each played about the same amount per game. (Harden 22.9 minutes, Williams 21.5). Harden was also underwhelming as a rookie while trying to find a niche on the Thunder and adjust to the NBA game.
In his second year, Harden saw his playing time increase to 26.7 minutes per game, which correlated with increased production and efficiency, as well as increased team success. As you know, Harden is now considered a star player, arguably worthy of a max contract. While the Thunder’s roster is not perfectly balanced, it rolls out combinations of Westbrook-Harden-Durant for 48 minutes that make its attack relentless. Chances are good that the Thunder will be back to the Finals this upcoming season, and James Harden will be a big reason why. If Williams shows continued improvement, the Wolves would be smart to carve out a 6th Man role for him that’s much like Harden’s. It’s a rare model, but not an impossible one.
Having now gotten way ahead of myself with that Harden comp, I’ll wrap this up by pumping the brakes a bit and saying how good it is to hear good things being said about D-Thrill by people known to give one kind of love only–tough love. We’ll be watching Williams closely this season, starting with the preseason opener this Wednesday against Indiana.